The Self-Contradictory Nature of Godlessness

I recently read a blog post on Godless in Dixie regarding the supposed anti-human theology that is part of the Christian worldview.  The gentleman writing makes the argument that Christianity inspires self-loathing and that Jesus of Nazareth engaged in what amounts to psychological torture.  You can read the post for yourself.

http://godlessindixie.com/2014/04/25/anti-human-theology-and-cultivated-self-disgust/

First, I’m saddened by his story, because while the whole thing seems like a straw-man, I don’t think it is necessarily a straw-man of his own creation.  The word Christian is rarely used in the Bible.  We throw it around now in a way that means very little.  It is often seen only as some sort of cultural heritage.  As such, people calling themselves Christians, but failing to actually follow Christ in thought or action in any meaningful way can do great damage.  Still, one cannot look to the worst representatives of an enterprise to build a case against the values of that enterprise.  I fear people who have this perception that Christianity encourages self-hatred have had some very poor examples of people in their lives who call themselves Christians.

What does the Biblical narrative teach about people though?  Are we fundamentally garbage?  Should we regard ourselves with guilt and shame?  Do we invent special types of crimes for ourselves?  Can we do no good?  Well, the only way to know what the Bible teaches about such a thing, is to actually look at the Bible in context.

This fellow seems to base his objection to Christianity on a false understanding of who people are, and what they’re relationship is to God according to Biblical teaching.  He says, “Rather than affirming what is good within humanity, it begins with a condemnation of all that is bad”.  This is patently false though.  In the beginning, God created.  The creation included people, who were designed in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  He blessed them, and saw EVERYTHING that had been made, and it was VERY good (Genesis 1:31).  That is the fundamental teaching about people.  Everything that follows (ie the history of the universe) must be understood in this context.

God did not create robots though.  He created free moral agents.  This sort of freedom is fundamentally necessary for the expression of love.  It cannot be achieved through coercion.  We can choose good, or we can reject it and choose otherwise.  God has left this choice to us.  What is good, really, though?  Jesus said that only God is good (Mark 10:18).  What did he mean by that?  I think he meant a couple of things.

First, I think he meant to subtly suggest, as he did many other times, that he was, in fact, God.  He was being addressed as good, so he pointed out that only God embodies the foundation of goodness.

Second, he meant that God alone is the foundation of all that is good.  Without God, real good and evil simply just do not exist.  We can try to base our understanding of good in ourselves, but the fact of the matter is that this sort of relativism only leaves us with no foundation at all.  It leaves us with mere opinions and confusion.  In the video embedded in this post, the fellow there says, emphatically, that “you are not a sinner!”  He goes on to say though, that he hopes you make “good” decisions and you don’t have free license to be a jerk.  Well, why not? He seems to think that there is some standard of “good” that I ought to be following.  Who’s though?  His?  On one hand these confused ideas say there is nothing wrong with me, while on the other they seem to affirm there is a certain way the universe should be, and I shouldn’t violate that.  Sounds familiar!

Sin is, simply put, the violation of this ordained state of affairs.  It’s straying from Good.  While Biblical teaching says we’re fundamentally God’s creation, it also teaches we have a selfish streak that seems to want to go it alone.  If we deny God’s goodness, we end up following the desire to be our own god by defining “good” in any way we see fit.  Allowing such a thing is, again, a necessary feature of free-will.  God would prefer for us to return to the very good state of affairs in Genesis 1, but he doesn’t do it by asking us to despise ourselves.  I’m not even quite sure how somebody calling themselves a follower of Christ would come to this conclusion, and worse, how they would teach it.

The most cited part of the Bible seems to be John 3:16.  As important are John 3:17-18.  It’s quite clear that Jesus didn’t come to condemn, but to pardon.  It seems pretty clear to me (NIV):

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Now, the fact is that there does seem to need to be some steps taken to right our course, but does that necessitate self-hatred?  I’m not sure how you even come to that conclusion.  If it does, and Godless is suggesting that I need to right my course and come to his way of thinking, then he also must be suggesting that I ought to hate myself for my mistaken thinking because there is something wrong with me.  That’s a silly conclusion that does not follow.  People can be well-aware of things about themselves they’d like to change, without hating themselves.  People can even suggest things about other people that might need changing and have only the best of intentions.

You might be able to blame the teaching of your parents or your “Christian” community for your self-loathing, but if you want to build a case that the teaching by Jesus of Nazareth is to blame it will be quite flimsy, since he placed free grace on the table if you’d like it.  The alternative is to willing drift away from true Good.  It’s your choice.

The Almighty Big Box Store

Wal-MartFor those of you who know me, you know my life has been in flux as of late.  A job change, along with a move from Washington state to Montana, selling a house, trying to find a new place to live, and splitting up from the rest of my family for a few weeks seem to have put a lot of pressure on my sense of security.  For the past week I’ve felt somewhat jobless and homeless, though never in need of income or shelter.  It’s funny where, even as Christians, we derive our sense of security though.  I’ve been in a foreign town in a foreign state for all of 36 hours now.  I find it a little scary and lonely without my wife and kids by my side.  I know, intellectually speaking, that I ought to derive my sense of security from the creator of the universe who can both give and take away.  However, in practice, it seems that I fail miserably at this.

First, it is probably no surprise that my wife is my crutch.  Not crush mind you (although she is that too), but the one I lean on for all manner of support.  From friendship, to financial planning, to fashion advice, if you take her away from me I become somewhat paralyzed.  I can overcome these things, but I feel lost without her.  Now, in my defense I could make a biblical case that this sort of leaning on each other in a marriage is a good thing.  Hopefully there are some things where I am a crutch for her as well.  We rely on each other, but answer to God first.

However, I discovered today, that it turns out that big box stores offer some odd measure of security for me as well.  I walked into a Walmart this morning and immediately noticed I felt somewhat relieved.  Things were suddenly familiar again.  That sense of nothing making any sense seemed to fade a little bit.  It felt somewhat like home.  The reason, I suppose, is that no matter where I go, places like Walmart and Costco look pretty much the same.  I literally thought to myself something like, “This Walmart is oddly comforting.”  They say home is where the heart is, and apparently the heart is at Walmart ($19.99 in the Shoes and Accessories department I think).

After deriving some sense of comfort in troubled times from the almighty Walmart, I came to the sudden realization that I could easily be compared to those foolish people in Exodus 32.  My wife (Moses) was back in Washington (up on the mountain) and in my panic and insecurity I appealed to Sam Walton (Aaron) to build me a Walmart (golden calf) to which I might appeal in my time of uncertainty.  Luckily I realized it before I got to the part where I was burning sacrifices before Walmart.

Once I realized it, I was able to somewhat refocus my sense of security back on God where it belonged.  Fortunately, through Christ I have a path to forgiveness for such corruptness, and can even chuckle about it.  Some people say “God is a crutch” as a means of defaming theists as being weak minded.  However, with the exception of the malice with which the comment is generally intended, I agree with those people.  God is a crutch.   We all have our crutches; those things that provide peace and security in our lives.  For some it is things like successful careers, big houses, fine automobiles, stacks of money, the dream of power, lust, or popularity.  For the follower of Jesus of Nazareth the pinnacle of security, upon which all other securities rest, should be the triune God, but is it?

When life gets complicated and uncertain, what is your crutch?

Secular Morality: The Euthyphro Dilemma Makes Me Barf

platoI enjoy conversing with people that don’t agree with me. At least the friendly ones. Exchanging ideas and meeting the difficult challenges to our worldview is the only way we can really have any confidence that it is a true description of reality. I recently had a conversation with a friend in which it was proposed that objective morality can still exist in a secular worldview. I was pointed to an article on “Secular Morality” as one possible explanation of how an objective moral system can be achieved without a transcendent (ie outside the material universe) source of the moral laws. It’s an interesting article, but alas, it seems to be a faith based system (ie religion) of its own, with mankind representing itself as its own diety. It’s too much to address all at once, so I want to just look at some broad parts of it in a couple separate posts. To get started, if you’re reading this, then you should read the article linked above for the context…I’ll wait.

First, the article quickly rebuts the “theist” position on morality by standing on an age old false dichotomy. The author states, “Theists usually believe that God is the author of morality…”. However, the problem is that this sort of vague assertion about “theists” or “religion” pull a lot of worldviews under one umbrella, and then condemn them universally in the same way. It turns out, though, that all “theists” do not all hold the same views on reality, and so to not address them uniquely is intellectually reckless. While a polytheistic religion based on the gods of Greek mythology, Hinduism, or even Mormonism, might suffer from the idea that gods are the “author” of morality, it would not be the case in the monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Leveling this claim against all of them in the same way you might level it against the ancient Egyptian gods, stems from a basic misunderstanding of the nature of the proposed foundation of those monotheistic religions. Loading the deck with language like “author”, implying the assumption that God commands good and that’s what makes it good, sets the stage for the challenge, first brought by Plato, known as the Euthyphro dilemma.

The Euthyphro dilemma is used to claim, as this article does, that “morality based on the absolute say-so of a supreme being seems to be no less arbitrary than the relativistic morality that theists decry.” This accusation can only be valid though, if God is understood to be the “author” of morality (ie what is known as “Divine Command Theory”). That is, in order for the Euthyphro dilemma to apply, God must choose what is to be good, and it is his “say-so” that makes it good. However, properly understood in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, God does not choose what is good and just. God is neither subject to some moral law outside Himself, nor does goodness exist simply because God commands it, implying that good could have been different than it is had God commanded differently. Rather, God, being good and just by nature, exudes goodness and justice. Goodness neither exist apart from God, so that he is subject to it or so that it can exist without him, or because of God’s divine commands. Since morality is neither something God is subject to, nor is it something he creates by fiat, it seems the Euthyphro dilemma commits the logical fallacy known as the false dichotomy. It attempts to pin two options on all theists, when with some there is certainly a third option. For further clarification, please see this short explanation by philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig who can do a much better job that I can in explaining it.

So, on the view of the major monotheistic religions, since God neither creates moral law, nor is he subject to some outside moral law outside of himself, it turns out that he, in and of himself and by his very essence, is the objective basis for moral law. This being the case, it seems clear that in each of them morality is not understood to be arbitrary, being decided by God, or expressed apart from God. Moreover, it is also evident that inside of each system that, as creations of God, mankind would be obligated to submit to the intrinsic moral code that God embodies. How morality plays out in each of those religious systems (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), and which one comports the best with reality, is for a different debate though.

Thus, the atheist ought not make the mistake of lumping all “theists” into one pot and then lay accusations against the entire pot. With this challenge of the Euthyphro dilemma met then, can the aforementioned article on secular morality claim a foundation for morality in any real universal sense? That is to say, can a secular worldview with consciousness somehow grounded in neo-Darwinian evolution claim a grounding for morality that isn’t just subjective. Can moral law be something that applies to all people, in all places, at all times? I don’t think so, but I’ll try to tackle that next, addressing some of the clear problems of claiming any meaningful morality based purely on individual or societal preferences, which is all that is left when something outside of the material world is removed as an option for the foundation for morality.

To be continued…

Books Make Me Barf: Cold-Case Christianity

“The answers are available; you don’t have to turn off your brain to be a believer. Yes, it is possible to become a Christian because of the evidence rather than in spite of the evidence. Many of us have done just that. ~J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity

I’ve always been somewhat of a skeptic in that I have a tendency to question things. I’ve said this before, but I guess I’ll say it again. I’m interested in believing true things, not necessarily popular things.  Subjective feelings are not, necessarily, good indicators of truth.  Moreover, emotion is certainly inadequate, in most cases, to allow us to make a compelling case to somebody else for our beliefs. We must learn to responsibly follow and present objective evidence if we’re to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The good news is that we all seem to be predisposed to follow evidence.  We use evidence to make decisions all the time without even thinking about it.  I look out the window every morning and, based on the evidence, decide if I should wear a jacket today or not.  In fact, I may just use circumstantial evidence to conclude it is raining outside when I see one of my kids come inside wet.  Sure it’s possible that they may have just been playing in the sprinkler, but if it is winter time and they’re fully clothed, I can infer the most reasonable conclusion is that the weather is inclement.  Evidence is important for forming our beliefs about reality.  We should all be skeptics to some degree, having sound reasons for why we believe what we believe.  Enter J. Warner Wallace.

J. (Jim) Warner Wallace is a vocal atheist turned vocal Christian apologist.  Having worked in law enforcement for many years, Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective in the Los Angeles County area. You may have seen his work featured on Dateline. In his recently released book “Cold-Case Christianity“, he tackles the case of the historicity of the life of Jesus using the techniques of his trade, applying the same principles he uses to solve cold-case homicides where witnesses are gone, physical evidence is slight, and it is solid circumstantial cases that bring the truth to light.  Detective Wallace takes you through his own journey from atheist to follower of Jesus of Nazareth via careful evaluation of the historical evidence, training you to think critically about things like evaluating witnesses, conspiracy theory, and the chain of custody in evidence gathering.

With this book J. Warner Wallace makes a significant contribution to the defense of the reasonableness of the Christian faith.  In recent years the vocal “new atheist” movement has been aggressively attacking religion, and specifically Christianity, with a newfound hostility, often claiming that the enterprise of reason stands solely with their position.  Tearing down strongholds and demolishing arguments against the knowledge of God, Cold-Case Christianity makes it abundantly clear that a belief in the Biblical text is not only reasonable, but even more reasonable than any of the other ancient documents which we accept at face value in our pursuit of knowledge about the past.  When evaluated objectively, as any good jury member with an open mind ought to, the historical case for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is successfully prosecuted by J. Warner Wallace.  It is only if one comes to the case with the pre-existing conclusion that supernatural events can’t happen that the case can be dismissed.

Undoubtedly, the charge against Wallace from some Christians will be that he takes the “faith” out of faith (by the way, fideism makes me barf).  They’ll likely say that this evidential approach to Biblical investigation puts God on trial.  I’d ask these naysayers to refer to their Bibles in places like 1 Peter 3:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 2 Corinthians 10:5, and Jude 1:3 (among others).  The Biblical authors were clear that reasoning with people and defending faith in Christ was a virtue, not a vice.  J. Warner Wallace has taken these mandates seriously, carefully arranging a book that is useful to both Christians and non-Christians alike in their pursuit of understanding.

Not only does Wallace build a successful case for the reliability of the eyewitness gospel accounts, but he does it in a way that is appealing to any fan of the whodunit genre of books, movies, and television shows.  Weaved into J. Warner Wallace’s investigation of the biblical accounts, are real world examples from his cold-cases that are used to reinforce the subject matter of each chapter.  Cold-Case Christianity is one of the most accessible apologetics books I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  This is a book anybody can, and should, pick up and read not only to educate themselves, but for the pure enjoyment of it as well.  Kudos to J. Warner Wallace who has put together a book that is both educational and fun!  Thorough, winsome, and entertaining, this is the first book that should be recommended to any skeptic who levels a charge against the reliability of the gospel accounts or the historical figures that penned them.

What’s So Great About Jesus Anyway?

CaptureSo he was God incarnate and died a horrible death.  He was God, so he knew he was not ultimately going to die, right?  So what’s the big deal?  Or so one might ask.  Especially this time of year when people seem to drag Jesus out, dust him off, and place him in their nativity scene.  I’ve used to ask myself this question on occasion.  It wasn’t until I came to better understand the triune God of the Bible that I really felt I had a satisfactory answer.  I think for a lot of my life, I got that the historical Jesus was fully human, and at least on the surface recognized that he was fully divine, but never really thought much about the ramifications of such a being.  I used to think to myself, that if I had to lay down my life for my friends, or my family, or even for strangers, that I could do that.  If somebody said to me, “You choose.  Will you die a horrible death, or all your friends and family die a horrible death?”  Could I exercise the kind of love that would allow me to trade my life for theirs.  Isn’t this basically what Jesus did?  So what makes him so great?  I hear stories about soldiers in battle jumping on grenades for their buddies all the time!  If they can take pain and death for somebody else, what’s so great about Jesus?  Isn’t it the same thing?  This is really a wrong-headed view of what Jesus did though.

First, it must be recognized that the God of the Bible is the source of objective Good.  If you have perfect goodness on one side, and some badness, say murdering somebody, on the other side, how much difference is there between the goodness and the badness?  It turns out that infinite anything against finite anything leaves you with an infinite difference.  This applies even against a finite badness of a lower magnitude, like stealing a pack of gum.  It also turns out that when you measure these things against infinite goodness, that the stolen pack of gum and the murder start to look a lot the same in relation to the perfect goodness.  It’s even an infinitely greater magnitude of difference in moral equality than, say, between Mother Teresa and Jeffery Dahmer, though we’d typically say the two were separated by an unfathomable moral chasm.

Now, keeping this vast difference between goodness and badness in mind, understand that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t sacrifice himself for his friends and family.  The sacrifice he made was more akin to trading himself as ransom for the population of San Quentin.  This guy who had done absolutely nothing deserving of death, or even after-school detention, was tortured in unimaginable ways in the place of the worst mankind has to offer.  That’s you and I by the way.  Sure it may look to us like we’re vastly different from Jeffery Dahmer, but in scale it’s a bit like us equating the size of the beetle to the size of the ant.  In relation to each other one is much larger, but from the perspective of a human being, the difference is fairly insignificant.  Measured against complete goodness, morally speaking, I’m that beetle compared to the ant that is Jeffery Dahmer.  Now this being the case I’m forced to amend my comparison from earlier, and ask myself a new question.  Would I sacrifice myself for the likes of a bunch of Jeffery Dahmer, Adolf Hitler (you didn’t think I’d leave Hitler out did you?), Charles Manson, and Joseph Stalin types?  Not only that, but would I be willing to be unimaginably tortured before being killed so that they could have a get-out-of jail free card?  I’m afraid this is where I’d take a pass.  But this still isn’t really the complete picture.

The God of the Bible is triune.  Three persons (ie minds) in one being.  Yes, this is a mind bender, but this is the Biblical view of God.  Jesus is one of these ontological persons, keeping in mind that we’re not talking about human persons, but centers of consciousness.  The pre-incarnate Logos (Word) existed prior to Jesus the man.  The most straightforward scriptural data to this is in the first sentence of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)  John goes on to say that all things that have been created, were created through Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t just some guy, he was with and, at the same time, was the eternal uncaused first cause of all things.  Now, if I’m God (which I’m not) and I created some beings, gave them freedom to do as they please, and it turned out what they want to do is lie, cheat, pillage, rape, murder, and turn on me, do I really want anything further to do with them?  It turns out God did.  He tried all kinds of things through history to turn people around, which the way I read it seems as though it was largely to prove to us that none of those things work.  We’ll never be able to meet God’s standard directly.  It’s like asking a beetle to become the size of a human being.  Finally, he decided he (Father) would send himself (Son) as a mediator (Merry Christmas by the way), leave perfection, and take on the form of one of us in order to lead us back to himself.

Now, given this fact that Jesus pre-existed as God and with God, having no particular need of human beings, I have to amend my question even further I think.  I have to ask myself, as a human being, would I be willing to lower myself ontologically (ie change my very existence) and take on the form of…a beetle?  And be tortured and killed in order to save a bunch of rebellious insects (imaging for a moment that insects were free moral agents)?  Now not only would I take a pass, I’d laugh in your face.  Explain to me that after I am tortured and killed that I’ll be restored to glory as a human being, and ask me if it matters to my decision!  I see no good reason why I would submit to condescending to the status of an insect to be tortured and killed, even if not doing so meant the extinction of every beetle and ant on Earth.  Why should I care enough that I’d suffer even a hangnail’s worth of discomfort for such nonsense?  I see no reason for the general to step into the battle and throw himself on the gernade…to save the lives of the opposition.

That’s what is so great about Jesus.

WWHD: What Would Hitler Do?

Cheeky.  I know.  Most Christians like to operate on the WWJD premise.  However, a favorite apologist of mine, Greg Koukl, would argue that in order to know what Jesus would do in any given situation, you’d have to know what Jesus did in history.  He’s right.  It seems a lot of the time we prefer to operate on slogans and emotional appeals to make our cases, rather than doing the hard work of being students of theology or history.  I’ve decided since Jesus seems to be something of an enigma to a lot of people, including a lot of Christians, that using the motto WWHD can be a lot easier than WWJD.  It turns out most folks over the age of 20, regardless of political or religious affiliation, have a pretty good grasp of what Hitler was all about (although it seems even this significantly more recent objective history is losing traction these days).  After giving it some thought, I’ve decided Hitler can be used much more easily than Jesus to make some points.  Sometimes rather than trying to convince somebody of who they should be like, it might be easier to convince them of who they shouldn’t be like.  This seems to work best with people who generally subscribe to some sort of relativism.

I often hear people say things like, “I have my truth and you have your truth.”  However, although we may have differing perspectives, there is only one truth to be sought.  For example, Joe may say he thinks Mike is a hard worker, but Mary may say she thinks Mike is not a hard worker.  Can it be true that Mike is both a hard worker and not a hard worker?  I think not.  It may be true that Joe thinks Mike is hard worker, and it may also be true that Mary thinks Mike is not a hard worker.  These are just two opinions though, probably based on different experiences with Mike.  Saying “Joe thinks” a thing, or “Mary thinks” a thing though, is vastly different from saying “Mike is” a thing.  I can say, “Mike is a hard worker,” and there is an objective truth value to that statement that is independent of any observer.  The logical law of non-contradiction makes it an impossibility that a statement can be both true and false at the same time.  Mike is either a hard worker, or he is not a hard worker.  You may need to flesh out context and what is meant by “hard worker”, but it is impossible that, in the same context, Mike both is a hard worker and is not a hard worker.  Given an adequate definition, the objective truth of the statement “Mike is a hard worker” can be known.  Further, in the absence of objective truth values, can we say that Hitler wasn’t justified in his actions?  If multiple truths are possible, you can say it is your opinion that it was unfashionable for him to take such actions, but not that it was objectively wrong.  You may think it was wrong, but that’s just your own version of the truth.  Hitler’s truth was that he was improving the world, and his truth is every bit as valid as your truth.  This is an untennable position if you ask me.

The other day I had another friend explain that we should just say that Monday is now Saturday and go home.  He asserted this is mere social convention.  We’re just nature and nature has no need of such social constructs.  His claim, as I understood it, was that we can re-define any truth we want as we see fit by getting the majority to agree to it.  There’s actually some truth to this as it pertains to labels, but while I can certainly appreciate his disdain for Mondays, it seems to me that the “Monday” being referred to is a certain kind of thing.  Certainly we could take the thing “Monday” and call it “Saturday”, but if what we mean by “Monday” in this case is that it is the first day of the work week, then call it what you will, it is still the first day of the work week.  Calling it something different doesn’t change the truth of the matter.  I can call it “hamburger” if I want, but I still need to punch in at 8:00.  Perception may be able to be overcome by appealing to popularity, but unfortunately truth cannot.  Changing perception does not change the truth.  Just ask any magician.  Hitler changed perception by appealing to the ferocity of German nationalism.  Simply changing popular public opinion though, never did change the true fact that handicapped and Jewish folks are people, and unjustly taking people’s lives is murder.

The next time you encounter someone who argues that something is true or permissible simply because different people have different truths, or because all truth is only defined by what is most popular, just ask them to consider carefully…WWHD?